Skip to comments.Hitchens on Blumenthal, Clinton Wars
Posted on 05/15/2003 1:48:39 PM PDT by JmyBryan
I have written a long review of Sidney Blumenthals book, The Clinton Wars, which will appear in the July issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It is a political review, and if you care enough you will just have to wait for it. I am not willing, and nor was I commissioned, to burden the readers of the Atlantic with a detailed rebuttal of everything in the book that concerns me personally. Even a brief accusation or suggestion against oneself, when made in print, often necessitates a long reply. And Blumenthals book is a protracted mood-swing between the grand and the trivial. I do not, however, want it suspected that I have nothing to say about the comments that chiefly concern my own role. So here is my response.
The pages that deal with me are confined for your convenience to pages 600-627 of the book, in a chapter misleadingly entitled Show Trial. (A show trial is when defendants are coerced or tortured into making a spectacle of their hysterical guilt or false confession. A sham trial is a farce, when either the guilty walk free or the innocent are condemned. We need, but do not have, a term for a proceeding where the chief defendant persuades his proxies to sit there in his place, and where everybody comes out a media winner.)
This last absurd eventuality, amazingly enough, is what Blumenthal describes in his book. By the end, he says, the Republican prosecutors were squeezing his hand and asking to be his friend, and the natural law of deal-making had restored normality to its Washington throne. This doesnt go so well with the concept of an Inquisition, but then neither does anything else in his account.
To begin with pages 601, in which it is correctly stated that I didnt myself charge Blumenthal with perjury (and neither did anyone). True. Its further stated that Some of the reporters who telephoned on the day of my own affidavit said that Hitchens had instigated their queries. False. Name one, and Ill prove it.
On page 602 it is stated that my affidavit completely messed up the smooth conclusion (to the show trial) that Clintons lawyers had prepared. I didnt realize until now that I spoiled their finale, and I am very pleased to hear it, but it isnt explained how an irrelevant or contrived piece of testimony could possibly have had that seismic effect.
On page 603 it is stated that at first Blumenthal could not remember the lunch with me and my wife at which he had loudly impugned two female witnesses against Clinton. This makes it distinctly odd that he should have such have a vivid and detailed but mistaken recollection of the same lunch on page 607.
On pages 603-4 he tries to make Scott Armstrong, one of the most punctilious and relentless reporters in Washington, look stupid and cowardly. I have not tried to contact Mr Armstrong in the course of writing this, and he can speak for himself, but I can swear that he is neither, and could not have been tricked into issuing an affidavit of his own.
On page 605 it is said that it was my idea to call Blumenthal cousin when we discovered that we both had Blumenthals in our ancestry. It was actually his rather nice idea, and Id prefer to give him the credit for it. On the same page, he asserts that the Vanity Fair party after the White House correspondents annual dinner, sometimes held chez moi, was his wifes notion. It was not. (I warned you that this might be trivial.)
On page 606 he alleges that I employed the phrase the worse, the better, so as indicate support for chaos to heighten the contradictions of politics. I can be found in print several times as saying that this is one of the most wicked political slogans ever coined, and I am glad, partly for his sake, that he doesnt choose to cite or name a witness here, either.
On page 607, alluding to the end of my first marriage (and carefully remembering to state that thats none of his business), he very sweetly says that I might leave a wife, but not a friend. Nice try. Neat smear. But he shouldnt be so sure....
On the same page, he quotes at length from a Nation column where I showered him with ironic praise, while omitting the only sentence that counts, in which I called him part of an evil twinship, where nice Sidney grappled with foul Sid.
On page 607, he describes how, at the lunch he earlier claimed not to remember, he handed Christopher a large envelope with copies of articles, tending to exculpate Clinton and damn his adversaries. On page 612, he quotes me saying the very same thing (except that it was two folders) and describes this claim of mine as a portentous anecdote.
On pages 608-9, he has quite a colorful description of a dinner in Washington with me and my wife and with Gore Vidal, at which I was not in fact present. (I was in London.) I wouldnt mind this slip if it wasnt for the detail and for the direct quotations.
How much of this can you take? At one point he mentions the tale of Rashomon and the difficulty of establishing the truth from two discrepant eye-witnesses. So I should say that the description he gives of my attendance at his birthday party is almost precisely as I remember it. He thinks I looked sick and edgy because I wasnt asked to give a toast: I remember how much I dreaded (as had been customary) being asked to do so. Its a difference that can decently be split.
This leads me to reply to his more general point, about my striking resemblance to Iago or Judas. How can it be that we stayed friendly for so long and that it curdled so badly? And how can it be that the quarrel came to him as a shock? Anyone who has ever had a breach of friendship can probably supply their own analogy. In my case, I can call Blumenthal himself as a witness. He knew that I thought his President was a monster and a phoney, and he also knew that I couldnt for some time face the fact that this was going to become an irreconcilable difference. The chief obstacle to an earlier break was the following: on the day that he first reported for work at the White House, Blumenthal was accused on the Drudge website not only of beating his wife but of covering up a police record on the matter. This was so ghastly and cruel a defamation that it drew me somewhat back to his side, and Jackies too. I am a huge opponent of the English libel laws, but I had a dinner with them, and with their lawyer, at their request, and actually advised them on how that law works, in case they chose to bring suit in London. (The book, which is sometimes reliable on dates and sporadically, opportunistically sound on memories but always good about conversations with his attorney, is silent on this episode.) Later, on the only appearance I ever made on the Drudge show, I was asked by the host why I was being so cold and rude, and told him exactly why.
This may go some way to explain why Blumenthal can represent me, with partial verisimilitude, as having been sometimes hard and sometimes soft. Thats the way human relations are. He makes the equivalent error in his turn, but I think in a more calculated and self-deceiving way, when he decides to remember me as having (now he comes to think of it) always been unreliable and unserious. If thats fair, then I could feel entitled to retrospective annoyance at the number of times he asked me to read and check his manuscripts, or hear them read down the telephone, when I was busy. But actually, I cant make it come out that way. Maddening though the experience of his solipsism sometimes was, I did learn something from it.
Pettiness often leads both to error and to the digging of a trap for oneself. Wondering (which I am sure he didnt) if by the 1990s [Hitchens] was morphing into someone I didnt quite recognize, Blumenthal recalls with horror the night that I gave a farewell party for Martin Walker of the Guardian, and then didnt attend it because I wanted to be on television instead. This is easy: Martin had asked to use the fine lobby of my building for a farewell bash, and Id set it up. People have quite often asked me to do that. My wife did the honors after Nightline told me that Id have to come to New York if I wanted to abuse Mother Teresa and Princess Diana on the same show. Of all the people I know, Martin Walker and Sidney Blumenthal would have been the top two in recognizing that journalism and argument come first, and that there can be no hard feelings about it. How do I know this? Well, I have known Martin since Oxford. (He produced a book on Clinton, published in America as The President We Deserve. He reprinted it in London, under the title, The President They Deserve. I doffed my hat to that.) While Sidney - I can barely believe I am telling you this - once also solicited an invitation to hold his book party at my home. A few days later he called me back, to tell me that Martin Peretz, owner of the New Republic, had insisted on giving the party instead. I said, fine, no bones broken; no caterers ordered as yet. I dont think you quite get it, he went on, after an honorable pause. That means you cant come to the party at all. I knew that about my old foe Peretz: I didnt then know I knew it about Blumenthal. I also thought that it was just within the limit of the rules. I ask you to believe that I had buried this memory until this book came out, but also to believe that I wont be slandered and wont refrain - if motives or conduct are in question - from speculating about them in my turn.
This brings us to the crux moment in the supposed Show Trial melodrama. Employing the confusing and confused testimony of Jude Wanniski (who he also describes as a political nut-case, if not a nut-case flat-out, and to whom he introduced me in the first place) Blumenthal suggests that I concerted my testimony in advance with the House Republicans, notably James Rogan and Lindsey Graham. Feebly bridging the gap between sheer conjecture and outright conspiracy, Rogan is quoted as saying: Hitchens may well have called Lindsey.. I did not in fact do any such thing. Why should my denial be believed? Its not as if I care. I probably should have colluded with them, if my intention was to land a blow on Clinton (which it was) let alone to plant a Judas kiss on Blumenthal (which it was not). But every other fragment of Blumenthals evidence and description shows - even boasts - that Congressman Graham was essentially punching air until the last day of the trial. That could not possibly have been true, especially in his cross-examination of Blumenthal, if he knew he had an ace in his vest-pocket all along. Only a tendency to paranoia or to all-explaining theories could suggest the contrary. Id even be able to claim for myself, I hope, that if Id truly wanted to gouge a deep or vengeful wound I could or would have made a better job of it. All of the flap, in point of fact, was the pre-fallout of an article that I was writing and that never made print.
Nor can the Wanniski hypothesis stand up in reverse. I spoke to staffers of the Judiciary Committee only on the clear understanding that the evidence was in one trial - that of the President - and not in any other. As Blumenthal himself concedes on page 601, he was in no perjury frame at any time. I said in public more than once that if my affidavit was employed for any other reason I would repudiate it and invite contempt of court. I had not met nor had I spoken with Congressman Rogan. Indeed, I did not meet or speak with anyone from any level of the Judiciary Committee until the day I made the affidavit. The first and only contact I had with Congressman (now Senator) Graham was some time afterwards, by long-distance telephone, when he assured me laughingly that the trial of the President would not conclude with my wife and myself as the only ones in jail: in other words that Blumenthal was in the clear. (He said the same thing for attribution to the Washington Post.) If he is quoted anywhere to any different effect, I can assure anyone that phone-logs and other evidence would demonstrate the contrary.
In an article written shortly afterwards for Vanity Fair (and uncited by Blumenthal) I gave all my reasons for not keeping quiet when I was eventually called. I possess letters and emails from three of Clintons truth-telling female victims, thanking me in different ways for opening either their eyes or the eyes of others. If Blumenthal asks, as he does, why I have become colder in my remarks since our rupture in 1999, it is because I had much less idea of the depravity of his President, even at that time, than I do now. And also because I know that Blumenthal helped give currency to other tales about my own alleged turpitude. Some of these - such as the suggestion that I am a hopeless addict and general degenerate - are circulated by my ill-wishers all the time and can be submitted to general review and verification. Others, such as the insinuation that I am a Jew-baiter and Holocaust-denier, got as far as the foul mouth of Henry Kissinger before I stopped them by the threat of legal action (and can be followed by the link on this site).
There is a further suggestion that I was maliciously and deliberately wrong in stating that Clinton bombed a non-military target in Sudan in order to save his own face (Page 608). I would urge all readers to follow all the citations mentioned on this page. Since Clinton committed that act in the week of Ms Lewinskys return to the grand jury, and since he bombed a country with which the US had diplomatic relations, and since he neither requested any inspections nor invited the endorsement of Congress or the United Nations before unleashing the missiles, I think that my argument and evidence will read better in retrospect, especially perhaps to Democratic and liberal loyalists, than it did at the time. But now I must stop, because I swore that this reply would stress only the personal rather than the political....
Christopher Hitchens 05. 13 . 03